To Mitigate or to Resign?

Matt Bai has an excellent column at The Washington Post on the dilemma Dr. Deborah Birx faced during the Trump Administration, especially in the early days of the pandemic: Unvarnished truth would have made her unable to mitigate the worst impulses of the president and his yes-men, while her participation gave a scientific veneer to policies she now says may have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The dilemma is genuinely difficult, and casual condemnation of Birx is a bit too easy. But I think Bai (who treats the dilemma seriously) ultimately has it right: Birx should have resigned. The … Continue reading To Mitigate or to Resign?

Honorable vs. Unhealthy Partisanship

The conventional wisdom is that partisanship fuels polarization. In the spring issue of National Affairs, I have an essay suggesting that honorable partisanship might actually provide a way out. On this reading, partisanship is a reflection of polarization. Polarization, in turn, reflects the fact that we have not persuaded one another of our ideas. Properly conceived parties can be vehicles for persuasion. By contrast, hopes for “post-partisanship,” which I trace to Hobbes and Bolingbroke, are rooted in discomfort with disagreement in politics. Honorable partisanship descends from Edmund Burke’s emphasis on partisanship as rooted in friendship, which in turn is based … Continue reading Honorable vs. Unhealthy Partisanship

Insurrections and Abstractions

Ben Kleinerman and George Thomas have eloquently said what most needs saying about yesterday’s unspeakable events. There is not yet enough distance to process them soberly. But a preliminary thought: The insurrectionists’ chant, and apparent self-justification, as they plowed through security barriers, scaled walls and smashed windows of the U.S. Capitol, was “Our House!” Never mind whether they act that way in their own homes. The question is: Whose house, exactly? This was an “our” contraposed to a “them”: real Americans versus traitors, with the latter category encompassing not only 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden but also, evidently, the millions more who … Continue reading Insurrections and Abstractions